During the Bush presidency, the relations between Turkey and US were severely damaged. The Washington administration has an immense responsibility in this case. Turkey gave full support to the US’ combat against terror. In this regard, Ankara sent Turkish soldiers to Afghanistan and acted in accordance with its Western allies in order to capture the militants of Al-Qaeda in Turkey or anywhere. Meanwhile, Turkey undertook a constructive role in the Middle East problems. However, when the Turkish Grand National Assembly (TBMM) rejected the US’ request to base US troops in Turkey for an assault on Iraq on March 1, 2003, the US’ Turkey policy was completely changed. As a result, Washington started to implement a ‘punishment strategy’ against Turkey. Turkey is a democratic country and the government must implement its policies in line with the decisions of the parliament. The Turkish Government sincerely wanted to pass the 1 March Parliament Note (tezkere) to allow the US troops to use Turkish territories, yet the Government had no option but to implement the taken decision.
The rejection decision of the Turkish Parliament cost Turkey a lot. Turkey lost billions of dollars in an economic crisis environment. However the US lost very little. Of course, if it were possible for the US troops to use Turkey’s territory, it would definitely become easier for US to invade Iraq. But, the US administration made a fatal mistake. They did not pay enough attention to the Turkish parliament, Turkish people and did not respect Turkish pluralism. In this period, the US promised to provide a huge credit at an amount of about 30 billion dollars and thought that Turkey could not reject its request to use Turkey’s territory (because, Turkey was trying to recover its economy after the 2001 great economic crisis). The US expected to exploit from Turkey’s difficult situation. The sarcastic expressions of some American politicians including President Bush caused a negative impact on Turkish parliamentarians and Turkish people. By the way, the Turkish Army, which makes declarations on almost everything, did not make any statement regarding the US-Turkey military co-operation on Iraqi operation. So, thanks to the Army’s impartial position, many Turkish politicians thought that the US operation against Iraq was not vital for Turkish interests. As a result Turkish democracy decided and it said "no’ to the US soldiers. If the US could use Turkish route, of course the risks in the operation would have been decreased a lot.
Although the US could not enter Iraq from Northern part of Turkey, the US was surprisingly not seriously affected in terms of military bases from Turkish decision. One of the most important reasons for this was the errant strategy of Saddam Hussein. Saddam did not presume that Turkey would refuse permission for US troops and deployed a large amount of soldiers in the northern part of the country. Meanwhile, the Iraqi Kurdish collaborators (Barzani and Talabani) with the US in the North also prevented the passage of Saddam’s soldiers. Thanks to these developments, Iraq was occupied by US troops in a very short time and it was brought under the control of US with very few casualties. In this regard, it is not possible to say that the Turkey’s rejection of the US paved the way to a big tragedy, as the Vice President of US Dick Cheney and some other politicians had claimed in the recent past. The US did not have many difficulties during the invasion of Iraq, but after the invasion.
The problems of the US in Iraq did not begin during the invasion, but later. The US easily occupied Iraq easily but could not administer the occupied territory. The US soldiers created serious problems in the region due to their wrong strategy, human rights violations, and being unaccustomed to the indigenous people. At this point, Turkey offered help to the US and the Turkish parliament ratified the decision to send Turkish troops to Iraq to help the US as a result of the intense efforts of the Erdogan government. However, the US did not show any desire to accept Turkey’s attempts and made a special effort to keep Turkey and Turkish approach outside Iraq and outside the region. It can be said that the policies of the Bush administration regarding the Iraq issue were founded on the ground of punishing Turkey and to keep it outside the Middle East and Iraqi issues. In addition, the US did not give any support to Turkey in combating terrorism during this period, especially between the years 2003 and 2007.
Furthermore, many people in Turkey even stated that the US supported PKK terrorism. During this period, Turkish public opinion showed a strong and unprecedented reaction against the US’ approach to PKK terrorism and the Kurdish issue. Almost every political group in Turkey thinks that the US was not candid about the PKK terrorism. In this context, the terrorism problem still remains the most important issue between the two countries.
This mistakes which occurred during the Bush administration would definitely pave the way to further problems in the upcoming years. Unfortunately, some people in Washington think that Turkish society can forget the bad things easily. Yet, this is not a true analysis. One of the most significant reasons for the Turkish parliament’s rejection of the 1 March Bill was the repercussions from the two countries’ previous run-ins. The Turkish intellectuals, bureaucrats, media, experts, and even laymen do not forget the US’s biased behaviors regarding the 1964 Johnson Letter, the US’s arms embargo on Turkey respecting Cyprus, and pro-Greek stance of the US in many occasions and the Armenian issue. Unfortunately, the Bush administration added new damaging even traumatic memories to the previous ones. Besides, the US soldiers headed bag the Turkish soldiers in northern Iraq. With these actions, the US not only punished, but also insulted Turkey. All of these bad memories would be remembered by the Turkish people and affect the relations between the two countries in the future. I am sure that no single Turkish soldier and citizen can forget the bag affair in coming years.
In this context, the new president must be aware of this heritage with good sides and with the sins and try to take action to eliminate the bad memories. He should ease the damages in the relations.
What Obama Presidency Should Do?
First of all, the new president Barack Obama must give full support to Turkey about combating terrorism via a strong message. Although Iraq has been kept under the control of the US for about six years, up to now, the US military forces has not caught or arrested or judged any PKK terrorist. The PKK became stronger under the US occupation rule. In the following days, if the Obama administration could make a contribution by apprehending a famous name from the PKK, it would positively affect the US’ image in the eyes of Turkish people. The US should do something in the PKK issue really important valuable to the Turkish people because the people here see the US somehow responsible for the increasing PKK terror.
Secondly, Obama must not act in line with the desires of the ultra-nationalist Armenian Diaspora. The US should keep its impartiality in the issue. While a historical dialogue process has been launched between Ankara and Yerevan, any radical expressions from Obama could damage this process. Obama should concentrate on today’s problems rather than historical Armenian claims and support the efforts of rapprochement between Turkey and Armenia. He should not be emotional but realist. The only aim should be to establish Turkish-Armenian friendship on mutual interests of US, Armenia and Turkey. Turkey defends a regional integration between Turkey, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan. If the Karabakh and other occupied territories problem could be solved with the US’ help, Turkey could be the locomotive of Caucasian integration. The stability and more co-operations in the Caucasus will put an end to the Armenian isolation and strengthen the Western energy security making Nabucco and other east-west energy corridors more possible. If Obama concentrates on the disagreements between Armenians and Turks and if he allows the ultra-nationalist Armenian diaspora lobbyists to drive the relations Turkish, Armenian and American interests would be undermined. We should now focus on Armenia’s and the region’s needs. Armenia should not be a prisoner of the extremists’ and Russia’s narrow and conflict based policies. Georgia War clearly proved that Armenia, Azerbaijan and Turkey need each other.
Third, the EU membership of Turkey is of vital importance in terms of the peace in the Middle East and the relations between the West and the East. In conjunction with the full membership of Turkey, the EU would have a Muslim member country for the first time. Becoming an equal and strong member of the EU, Turkey can make significant contributions to the stability and development of the Middle East and greater East. Besides, Turkey would prove to construct a frank, constructive, and beneficial relationship for both sides between the Muslim and the Western worlds. In this way, Turkey could be a model country and success story for the Muslim world and help to eliminate the region’s extremist religious groups. If the EU rejects Turkey due to the religious differences, this great mistake would be a great signal to the Muslim peoples in the world. The US can play a constructive role in bridging Turkey and the EU.
Finally the US must keep its promises in Cyprus. Turkish side fully support the Annan Plan, however while the Greeks strongly rejected the UN Peace Plan. The US and the EU promised a lot to Turkish Cypriots and Turkey before the referendum. However the side who was punished is the Turkish Cypriots and Turkey. The US and the EU did not keep their promises. Turkish people are frustrated with the double standards in Cyprus issue. People here think that the EU and the US support the Greek Cypriots because of religious solidarity. I hope Obama will keep the US’ words to the Turkish Cypriots.